Across the Junn-Junn Wastes ...by
by Van ©2011


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Seven Days into the Junn-Junn Wastes...

The first two days after being dropped off by BELENUS, Bonnie and George crossed a vast expanse of dunes, mile after arid mile of rippling, rolling sand.  On the third day, rock outcroppings appeared and the dunes receded.  Gradually, the landscape become a continuously branching maze of canyons and defiles broken by dry lake beds.  Towering, skyscraper-like spires of wind-blasted rock broke the monotony, but mainly they sailed above narrow valleys bordered by steep cliffs.  Stunted trees and scraggly bushes struggled to grow in some of the larger arroyos, possibly tracing the path of underground streams.  That was the only vegetation visible in detail from cruising altitude.

Now and then, they soared above herds of dinosaurs.  Some were herbivores, with short, stubby legs, thick hides, and massive, rounded forms, often studded with spikes or bony plates.  They generally scattered as the hoveryacht approached.  Others were carnivores, bipedal and fast, with dagger-toothed jaws and long, stiff tails that served as counterweights when they put their heads down and charged.  Some were quite large, solitary hunters the size of an armored land-walker scout.  Others were much smaller, individually only about the size of humans, and they seemed to run in packs.  At first, the species they encountered were similar if not identical to the dinosaurs roaming the wilder parts of southern Gaul and the Iberian and Tyrrhenian badlands; but, as the journey continued, what were almost certainly new species began to appear.

The infamous Junn-Junn dragons hadn't yet revealed themselves.  On the fifth day, George thought she might have seen something very large silhouetted against the setting sun as it landed atop a spire many miles distant, but she couldn't be sure.

Of the warlike human inhabitants known to populate the Junn-Junn, the explorers saw nary a sign.  Either the local population was too sparse to leave a mark on the land or they had not yet reached any towns and villages.  The natives were known to have firearms, so Bonnie and George kept an eye out for smoke or the regular, unnatural shapes of human-built dwellings or forts atop the passing buttes and spires, intending to give them a wide berth.  So far, they had seen nothing.

They ran off the edge of their maps on day four and entered lands totally unknown to Luropean civilization.  The partner not at the wheel filled the pages of the expedition's journals with sketches and rough maps.  They would have liked to stop to conduct formal surveys and to take samples of the vegetation and fauna, but the results would be of no value if their broader purpose wasn't met.  They were trying to prove that crossing the Junn-Junn Wastes was even possible.  More detailed exploration would be left to later expeditions.  They pressed on with deliberate speed.

It was now day seven.  Bonnie was at the wheel and watching the sunrise.  It was providing a spectacular display, a vista worthy of one of the great landscape artists of Iroquoia.  Bonnie couldn't begin to catalog all the variations on the color "red" painting the eastern horizon.  George could name them, she thought with a grin.  She probably owns a gown or accessory in every hue.  The vista was truly awe inspiring—and terrifying.

Just then, the hatch to the galley opened and George emerged.  Carrying two mugs, she climbed the ladder and joined her partner on the quarterdeck.  She handed one mug to Bonnie, brought the second to her lips as she turned to face the dawn—and paused.  "Oh, my!"

"Indeed," Bonnie agreed.  "Of course, there's no way to be sure."

George sipped her tea.  "Perhaps, but I'll be quite surprised if we don't find ourselves in the middle of a Junn-Junn sand-blizzard by nightfall."  Violent storms were yet another reason the Wastes were dangerous, but the total lack of meteorological stations between Luropa and Gondwana made the weather of the interior impossible to forecast with any degree of scientific accuracy.

"The barometer is dropping and the wind shifting," Bonnie stated.  "We must assume the worst."

George nodded.  "I'll start securing the deck and down below, in case we have to set down."

Bonnie gazed at the terrain ahead.  "Take your time.  It doesn't look like we'll be running out of possible shelter anytime soon.  It looks like more of the same, with plenty of places to moor."

Despite the inherent dangers, Bonnie and George had devised the means to stop in relative safety.  If a violent storm did develop, it would be their first occasion to test the plan.  Specifically, they would find an arroyo or narrow valley where they could moor the hoveryacht with the bow into the prevailing wind.  They would then furl the sails, retract the masts, rig a cover over the deck, and wait out the storm, hovering between the rock walls but not in actual contact.  They would stand guard with Tesla-rifles, but the assumption was that any rampaging predators should be more concerned with finding their own shelter than climbing the mooring lines.  As an added precaution, electrified ratguards that packed a powerful wallop would discourage stealthy intruders.

But what if inadequate mooring points presented themselves?  The Genius Girls had an answer for that, as well, in the form of explosive anchors.  If push came to shove, they could deploy said anchors against the native rock and trigger charges that would drive bolts deep into the surface.  When the storm passed, they could release the bolts with smaller, shotgun shell sized charges, allowing the main anchor assemblies to be reused, assuming they weren't damaged beyond repair, of course.

Would the cables and anchors hold, or would GWENDOLINE be dashed against the cliffs and destroyed?  No matter.  Our Brave Heroines would prepare for the worst as best they could—and they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

The wind was howling like a Hibernian banshee—like an entire coven of Hibernian banshees!

"It's too dangerous!" George shouted in Bonnie's ear.  They were at the bow, peering with goggle-protected eyes at what they could see of the forward mooring lines.  They'd found what looked like a very good spot to shelter, a narrow valley divided by a small butte that would shield GWENDOLINE from the wind.  They'd already deployed their lines, fore and aft as well as port and starboard, but Bonnie was worried about one of the forward lines.  The cable was looped around a large boulder, but it was possible it might slip if the wind lifted the bow.  Bonnie wanted to add an explosive anchor to be doubly secure.

"I'll slide down a cable and deploy the anchor," Bonnie grinned.  "And if I can't climb back on my own, you can winch me on board.  Piece of cake."

George shook her head.  "You'll be dashed against the hull."

"Not if you winch me up at the stern."

"Oh."  George sighed.  "Very well, but hurry.  We still have to deploy the ratguards.  And it's getting dark."

"Quick like a bunny," Bonnie chuckled and they made their way aft.

With the thirty pound steel anchor folded and slung across her back, Bonnie scrambled down a mooring line, then made her way forward.

In addition to her usual boots, johdpurs, and blouse, Bonnie was wearing a desert robe.  Full length, with long, full sleeves and a generous hood, the light cotton garment was tie-dyed in several shades of tan, rust, and gray and was excellent camouflage.  Her gray scarf across her mouth and goggles over her eyes, Bonnie clutched the robe close and staggered forward, leaning into the wind.  She deployed the anchor at the base of the boulder, shackled it to the mooring line, then pulled the firing lanyard.

The charge went off with a muffled bang.  Bonnie frowned.  Had it been her imagination, or had she also heard a high-pitched, soprano scream?  She turned and faced the stern, but all she could see was the underside of GWENDOLINE, the folded lifting modules, and blowing sand—but wait!  Were those cloaked and hooded figures huddled around the aft lines, or was she seeing boulders she'd simply failed to notice, earlier?  No, she was sure they hadn't been there before, whatever they were!

The wailing scream sounded, again—and was abruptly cut off!

George!  Bonnie reached under her robe for her Tesla pistol—then froze.  The sand had cleared for a second and she saw that the "boulders" had increased in number, and some of them were climbing the aft mooring lines!  It would do George no good for Bonnie to simply charge forward and get herself killed of captured.  Best to hide and strike when the time was right, when it would do George some good.

Bonnie eased back into the shadows of the butte.  There was a shallow cave, little more than the size of her body, a couple of feet to one side.  She crammed herself into the triangular opening, sat down in the sand, and pulled her robe close untill it covered her completely.  She watched through a slit between scarf and hood as her footprints quickly filled with sand... then were completely obliterated.  Seconds later, a shadow crossed the cave entrance... followed by a second shadow... and then there was nothing but the howling wind, blowing sand, and the knot of worry twisting her gut.  George!

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

George tugged on the cord or thin rope or whatever had been used to lash her wrists behind her back and struggled to expel the rag stuffed in her mouth.  Her efforts were blocked by the thinness of her bonds and the apparent unavailability of an actual knot, none that her groping and fluttering fingers could discover, in any case.  Also a bandage-like cloth had been tied over the stuffing in her mouth.  She'd been waiting at GWENDOLINE's stern to help Bonnie clamor back on board so they could rig the ratguards and start thinking about dinner.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a lasso dropped over George's head and shoulders, cinched tight, and pulled her off her feet!  Before she could do more than shriek in surprise, her hands were pulled behind her back and tied together.  She kicked out and her boot connected with one of her cloaked and hooded attackers, but there were too many of them and they were too strong.  George was overpowered.  A hand clamped down over her mouth and she bit down.  Immediately, the hand was released and George screamed, again, but her soprano wail was cut off when the rag was stuffed in her mouth.  The cleave-gag was tied, more bindings tightened around her booted ankles, and the issue was completely decided.

Next, George's captors lifted her up and literally tossed her over the side!  She screamed through her gag, but instead of falling, George found herself dangling from several lassos, some held by cloaked figures on GWENDOLINE's deck and some on the cliff face.  Various of the ropes were hauled in or played out she was pulled into a small cave, more or less even with the level of the main deck.  George wiggled like a fish on the line as the ropes jerked and swung—and then she found herself in darkness.

George's eyes adjusted, and the inky blackness became torchlight flickering off stone walls.  She was inside the cave and a canvas or animal hide cover had been stretched across the entrance.  Camouflage, she realized.  That's why we didn't see the cave as we moored.  The wind was still howling, but at greatly reduced volume.  George was lying on her side on a rocky and sandy floor, surrounded by six, no eight of her mysterious captors.  Their cloaks were of rough-spun fabric and were pieced together from irregular patches, each dyed in a slightly different earth-tone hue.  As desert camouflage, they were equal if not superior to Bonnie's robe.

George shook her head, dislodging the bandage securing the rag, then spit the wad to the floor.  "Who are you?' she demanded.  "Let me go, immediately, and take me to your leader... or to the closest Grand Alliance consulate."  The figures threw back their hoods, shrugged out of their cloaks, and let them drop to the cave floor.  "Oh, my," George gasped, staring in surprise (and awe).

Her captors were female, every one, and they were practically naked!  Their costumes consisted of boots, loincloths decorated by fringed hems, beads, embroidery, and small tufts of feathers, weapons belts, and (on three of them) bandeaus similar to their loincloths.  Narrow masks of blue and purple paint framed their eyes, and their hair was arranged in various ponytails and braids, but otherwise... naked!  Their bodies were deeply tanned and their bodies quite athletic, with well-defined muscles.  The overall effect was charmingly barbaric, reminiscent of ancient Celtic and Iroquoian tribal attire George had seen in the British Museum, but still... naked!

One of the women—with piercing blue eyes and sun-streaked, brown hair—knelt and lifted George's chin.  "Who are we?" she chuckled.  "We are the Sand Amazons, and you are our prisoner."

"Is she covered with dust?" another of the "Sand Amazons" inquired.  "Look how pale."

The kneeling amazon licked her right index finger and used it to rub George's left cheek.

"Stop that!" George huffed, and her watching captors laughed.

"No, her skin pink, like belly of dune toad."

"Short hair," another observed.  "You sure she not boy?"

"She dress like Luroper girl," the kneeling amazon stated.  "We make sure, later."

The amazons laughed, again.

George twisted her bound wrists.  "I demand—M'mmpfh!"

The sun-streaked brunette had her hand clamped over George's mouth.  "You want see leader?  You see Queen."  She picked up the rag and stuffed it back in George's mouth.  "This one wiggler.  Tie her tight before packing."

George's brown eyes darted from face to tan, beautiful, gloating face.  Packing? she wondered.

The cleave-gag was not retied, but its function was taken up by a complicated hood of chamois leather.  As much bridle as head-covering, it had large, oval openings for George's eyes and a smaller, triangular gap for her nose. It laced up the back of her cranium by means of lace-thin thongs, making it skintight, and its leather straps of varying widths pressed against her lips, cupped her chin, and caged her head.  When the last thong was knotted, George doubted she could get out of the thing even if her hands were free, not without the use of a sharp tool.

And then the binding began.  George's wrist and ankle bonds were untouched, but rope was used to lash her elbows together, her upper arms to her torso and forearms to her waist, her legs together, from ankles to thighs, and her bent legs to her torso.  When her captors were finished, George found herself in a tightly hitched ball with her chin nearly resting on her knees and her boot heels nearly touching her fingers.

Next came the promised "packing."  A basket was produced.  Constructed of stout, interwoven sticks reinforced with lashings of cord, it was the size and shape required to hold a ball-tied prisoner with little room to spare.  In short order, George found herself inside the contrivance, head up and bottom down.  A domed lid designed to cage her head as tightly as the main basket caged her body was dropped in place and melded to the main basket with a continuous running-hitch of rope.  The final knots were tied somewhere behind George's head.

The amazons rolled and bundled their cloaks and checked the slings of their various firearms, crossbows, and bundled supplies.  George watched with anxious eyes through the lattice of her close-fitting prison as her captors prepared to travel.  We're going out into the storm?  Surely not.  A stout pole was passed through hefty loops in the basket and George and her cage were lifted onto the shoulders of a pair of amazons.  Then, torchbearers in front and behind, the party stepped off, heading not for the covered entrance but deeper into the cave.

The floor sloped down and the passage narrowed as they made their ways between jutting boulders.  It's not a cave, but a tunnel! George realized, then sighed through her gag.  Well, actually, it's both.  Swaying in her basket, she was being carried ever further away from GWENDOLINE and Bonnie!  And what had become of her partner?  Had Bonnie been captured, as well—or had she escaped and was lost in the deadly storm?  George imagined the worst, but hoped for the best.  It was all she could do.

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

Bonnie huddled in the shelter of her tiny cave throughout the night.  She remained perfectly still, even in the darkness, carefully rationing the slow, cautious comfort motions and stretches required to keep her muscles from cramping.  Bonnie was half Brit, a quarter Gaul, and a quarter Tuscarora, and she'd spent most of her girlhood summers with her Tribal relatives, running with the other youngsters and learning to hunt and fish in the old ways.  The "stillness of the hunter"—to remain immobile, alert, and unconcerned with personal discomfort—was one of the earliest lessons imparted by her elders.  At first, it had been sheer torture to simply sit in the woods, not moving and not speaking, but eventually she learned to still her mind and control her impulses—and it was like the opening of a door.  The ancient hardwood forest began to speak to her, and she began to listen.  It was a lesson, one of many imparted during those hot, green months, that had done much to form Bonnie's character and make her different from her fashion and gossip-obsessed female relatives back in London.

The Iroquoian Forests spoke of water and the rhythm of the seasons, of rain and flowing rivers and the cycle of birth and death.

The Junn-Junn Wastes spoke of sun and wind.  It was indifferent to life—not hostile—indifferent.  And water?  Water hid from the heat and the rocks.  If it showed itself, it would be taken into the sky.  Water was fugitive.  It hid under the sand, or it was soon gone.

Bonnie sat in her crevice, huddled in her robe, and she waited.

Finally, the wind slackened and the sky brightened.  The storm was abating.  Gusts still lifted the sand and howled between the rock walls, but this was punctuated by ever longer periods of relative quiet, with only the distant, ever fainter moan of the passing storm disturbing the dawn.

Suddenly, cloaked figures appeared, indistinct in the pre-dawn glow.  They dropped down GWENDOLINE's mooring lines and gathered in a huddle under the floating hull.  Many of the ghost-like forms opened their cloaks, and a few removed them completely.  Now, Bonnie could see that they were women—strong, warrior women.  Dressed in boots and loincloths, armed with long knives, pistols, carbines, and crossbows, they moved with the natural grace and ease of fighters.  And they were a mixed lot, blond, brunette, and raven-haired beauties, with complexions varying from dark tan to dark browns that suggested Gondwanese blood.Who is this mysterious amazon

Voices shouted down from GWENDOLINE, and several of the women looked up.  Words were exchanged, but the conversation was too quiet for Bonnie to follow.  Then, another she-warrior, this one with long, straight, brown hair, scrambled down a line and dropped to the sand.  She was clothed like the rest, but her cloak was rolled and slung across her back, next to a Castillian cavalry carbine and a coiled lasso.  Her remaining costume and accoutrements—rough boots, fringed loincloth, knife, water skin, and belt pouch (no bandeau)—were the same as her companions, but Bonnie could see that the others were treating her with respectful deference.  She issued orders and the warriors split into several groups.

Unseen behind her camouflaged, dusty cloak (she hoped) Bonnie watched as one party filed directly in front of her crevice and continued around the side of the butte.  Other groups climbed the cliff faces to Bonnie's right and left.  A final contingent scrambled back up the mooring lines, returning to GWENDOLINE.

The newcomer—the leader—remained on the ground.  Bonnie watched as she opened her pouch, reached inside, and pulled out what was unmistakably George's custom-made, polychromatic goggles!

If anyone knew what was happening, especially what was happening to George, it would be this woman—and now, for the moment, she was alone.  The warrior returned George's goggles to her pouch, turned, and walked away, down the arroyo and away from GWENDOLINE and Bonnie.  Her stride could only be described as cat-like... if the Junn-Junn had cats.  Perhaps a better descriptor would be 'Velociraptor-like,' Bonnie decided, only without the tail.  Bonnie watched the warrior's strong thighs and that portion of her firm, dimpled rump not covered by her loincloth.  Well, Bonnie corrected herself, not a long, pointy tail, anyway.

The odds will never be better, Bonnie decided.  She eased to her feet.  The sand that had drifted against her body and in the folds of her robe slowly drained to the rocky floor.  She waited until the leader was just barely in sight, about to disappear around a bend in the narrow canyon.  Then, slowly, carefully, Bonnie followed, moving with the stealth of a Tuscaroran hunter.  She kept her desert robe close around her body, turning her hooded head to scan the cliffs while keeping her quarry in sight.  There was no sign of the warriors who had climbed the rock walls, and the storm cover was lashed tight to GWENDOLINE's side-rails with none of the view-flaps open.  As far as Bonnie could tell, she was unobserved.

Bonnie paused in the shadow of a large boulder to slide her Tesla pistol from its holster.  She quietly blew any accumulated dust from the trigger assembly and charging coils.  The indicator dial was at full charge.  She slid the weapon back into its holster and continued stalking her prey.  GWENDOLINE's moored, hovering form disappeared behind her, around the curve of the cliff wall.

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

The storm had left the air clear of all dust.  As the sun continued to climb, the empty sky took on a turquoise-blue brilliance unlike anything Bonnie had ever seen.  Her quarry remained in sight, making her way through the rocky maze, passing side openings nearly as large as the main arroyo.  Bonnie wanted to let her get well away from her subordinates before she pounced.  Of course, for all Bonnie knew, at any moment the warrior she was stalking would join a party twice the size of the group they had left behind.  Nothing was certain—other than the telltale presence of George's goggles in the warrior's pouch.

After something like three miles, the arroyo opened onto a dry lake bed.  The shoreline, if you could call it that, was strewn with house-sized boulders sculpted by the wind into fanciful shapes.  Bonnie watched her prey stroll into the jumbled field and decided to pick up her pace.  The warrior was leaving a trail.  The average Luropean would have missed it, but a Tuscaroran child could easily follow the marks on the loose ground.  The warrior was no longer in sight, but Bonnie continued to follow, carefully and quietly.

Bonnie eased around the side of a terraced pillar of sandstone—and found she had reached the very edge of the boulder field.  Ahead lay the flat pan of the dry lake, stretching nearly to the horizon.  Beyond and on all sides were more cliffs, canyons, and spires.  Of her prey, there was quite literally no sign.  Her tracks simply... ended.  There were no rocks nearby, no hard surface the warrior could have stepped onto.  The scuff-marks and depressions simply stopped.

She back-trailed me, Bonnie realized.  That means she knows she's being followed, and

Suddenly, Bonnie heard a quiet cough behind her.  She turned—and froze in place.  Instantly, her pulse began racing and the hairs on the back of her neck stood fully erect.  Why?

Something like thirty yards away was a fully grown Tyrannosaurus rex!

The fearsome predator's head was down and it was sniffing the ground—no—it was sniffing Bonnie's tracks!  It lifted its massive head, focused on Bonnie, opened its dagger-toothed jaws, and ROARED!
Nice doggie!


Across the Junn-Junn Wastes